Mitt Romney has finally made the turn he has obviously been yearning to make for several months, from the primary campaign to the general election. He managed this with the post-Wisconsin acclamation of the political commentariat, ratified by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's acknowledgment of reality.
But you can forgive Romney if he looks like the dog who finally caught the car he's been chasing, only to be unceremoniously strapped to its roof. Five factors are lined up against him going into the fall: organization, money, President Obama's message, the GOP primaries, and demographics.
Boots on the ground. Team Romney has run what the Internet news site BuzzFeed describes as "pop-up campaigns," ramping up for a specific primary but leaving little infrastructure behind. The Obama campaign, by contrast, has been building a durable and broad political machine, with almost 700 full-time employees, BuzzFeed reported as well as thousands of volunteers and 100 field offices, with at least one in each state. To put it another way, as the FiveThirtyEight blog reported this week, the Obama campaign has spent more money on staff salaries for people working outside of its Chicago headquarters than the Romney campaign has spent on staffers all told. The classic example, per BuzzFeed: "When Romney's staff moved out of its office in Iowa after a virtual tie in the caucuses in January, the Obama campaign opened an office in Romney's vacant headquarters."
Money in the bank. The Obama campaign has been raising it hand over fist, upward of $157 million through the end of February (the most recent data tabulated), more than twice the $74 million Romney has taken in. But the raw totals don't tell the whole story. The Obama campaign sends out a steady stream of fundraising E-mails detailing the latest outrage by Romney or other GOPers and asking for a contribution of $3—a small amount, but one that gives donors a feeling of investment in the campaign, which increases the likelihood not only of subsequent contributions but also of their making the effort to cast a ballot in November.
Those small contributions add up quickly: 45 percent of the money collected by Obama's campaign came from small-dollar donors (those contributing less than $200), according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. By contrast, Romney got only 9 percent of his funds from small donors, and an astounding 66 percent from donors at the maximum legal limit. To put it another way, 40 percent of Romney's donors had already given the maximum legal amount, as compared to 8 percent of Obama's.
An old-school message. The Obama cash advantage will be offset at least somewhat by Romney's super PAC, Restore Our Future, and other outside groups like American Crossroads, which reportedly expects to raise and spend $200 million this year. But even the president's critics concede that he has settled on an argument—that Americans who play by the rules have the deck stacked against them—which "has some gravitational pull," as Steven Law of the Crossroads group put it to the New York Times last week. This kind of messaging has worked for Democrats going back at least as far as Bill Clinton's first White House run. ("We have seen the folks of Washington turn the American ethic on its head," Clinton said in his 1992 convention speech. "For too long those who play by the rules and keep the faith have gotten the shaft, and those who cut corners and cut deals have been rewarded.")
This argument allows Democrats to connect with middle-class voters on their economic concerns. The president's recent characterization of the GOP budget as "social Darwinism" is also classically Clinton, seizing the sensible center as a bulwark against overreaching, cold-hearted conservatives. That's why an ABC News/Washington Post poll released recently showed that one of Obama's strongest areas against Romney is who voters trust to do a better job "protecting the middle class."